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Rivers of War: Snippet Forty Seven

       Last updated: Friday, April 8, 2005 09:00 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 47:

    Driscol arrived in time to hear most of the exchange. He didn’t think he’d ever heard such a magnificent pile of lies, exaggerations, and pure hornswaggling in his entire life.

    Whoever this big young captain was, he had to be a Scots-Irishman. Nobody else would be mad enough to entertain the idea of stopping the British with just two cannons and a small band of Indians.

    He was a joy to behold.

    The captain’s blue eyes turned on him now, along with a grin as cheerful and confident as anything Driscol could have hoped for.

    Oh, aye, he’ll do splendidly. And who knows, he might even survive. Stranger things have happened.

    Driscol returned the grin with a thin smile of his own.

    “I dare say yon ‘artilleryman’ Lieutenant Ross wouldn’t know one end of a cannon from the other. Judging from his expression. But as it happens, sir . . .”

    Driscol swiveled in the seat. “Naval gunners, front and forward!” he barked.

    The sailors trotted up as smartly as you please. The lieutenant turned back to the captain.

    “Commodore Barney’s men, these are, sir. They’ll know how to handle the guns, once they’re positioned at the Capitol.”

    There wasn’t so much as a flicker in the young captain’s expression, even though he had a subordinate officer tacitly telling him what to do. Then, just a second later, the grin grew wider still. The captain edged his horse alongside the wagon.

    He leaned over, speaking quietly enough that only Driscol and Henry Crowell could hear him.

    “I’ve got no idea what I’m doing, Lieutenant, save that I will fight the British bastards.” The captain gave the black driver a cool, considering look, as if gauging his ability to keep from gossiping. “So I’ll be delighted to hear any suggestions you might have.”

    The look impressed Driscol in a way that the ready grin, the handsome face, and the confident shoulders hadn’t. The soldier from County Antrim had known plenty of young and self-assured officers, some of whom had made excellent leaders on a battlefield. Few of them, on the other hand, had been clear-eyed enough to understand that a menial was still a man, even a black one, and couldn’t be dismissed with no more thought than you’d give the livestock.

    Driscol, in turn, glanced at the captain’s Indian companions. There was a tale there, too, he was certain.

    He started to look away from the group, but a flash of teeth drew his eyes back.

    Lord in Heaven.

    Driscol hadn’t paid any attention at the time to the big girl whom the captain had claimed to be an Indian princess of some sort. His focus had been entirely on the captain’s argument with the officious clerk, and he’d dismissed the statement as just another of the captain’s Niagara Falls of balderdash and bunkum. Now . . .

    The “princess” was exchanging a jest with a young Indian warrior who looked to be some sort of relation. That big smile, on that face—perched as it was atop a supple body whose graceful form couldn’t possibly be disguised, even in a modest settler’s dress—

    It took a real effort for Driscol to tear his eyes away. This was no time for such thoughts. It was hardly as if that smile had been aimed at him, in any event.

    “I know what I’m doing, yes, sir,” he growled, more gruffly than he’d really intended. “I served under Generals Brown and Scott in the Niagara campaign, and before that for some years with Napoleon. I was at Jena and Austerlitz both, and more other battles than I care to remember.”

    The captain’s grin shallowed into a simple smile. “Oh, splendid. I’ll give the speeches and wave my sword about, then, while you whisper sage advice into my ear.”

    “My thoughts exactly, sir. You lead the men, and I’ll keep them steady.”

    The captain examined Driscol carefully. By the time he was done, there was but a trace of the smile left. “Steady. I imagine you’re good at that.”

    “None better, sir. If I say so myself.”

    The captain nodded. “I’m Sam Houston, from Tennessee. You?”

    “Patrick Driscol. From County Antrim originally. That’s in northern—”

    Houston clucked. “Please, Patrick! Do I look like an Englishman? My own sainted forefather, the good gentleman John Houston, arrived in this country from Belfast almost a century ago. Hauling with him a keg full of sovereigns he claimed to have earned honestly, mind you. Though I have my doubts, just as I suspect my ancestors weren’t really Scot baronets who served as archers for Jeanne d’Arc when she marched from Orleans to Reims. We Scots-Irish tell a lot of tall tales, you know?”

    An impulse Driscol couldn’t control took over his mouth. “Oh, aye. Tales of Indian princesses and such.”

    Houston glanced back at the girl in question. “That tale’s taller that it should be, I suppose, but it’s not invented from whole cloth. Tiana really does come from a chiefly family.”

    When his eyes came back, Driscol was surprised to see the shrewdness there. He hadn’t suspected that, in such a man.

    “I’ll introduce you later,” Houston said. “Mind you, I’d still like to get the children off to a place of safety, but . . . They’re all from chiefly families, and headstrong as you could ask for. Tiana most of all. So I doubt me I’ll be able to shake them loose.”


    Driscol shook his head, trying to concentrate on the task at hand.

    For the first time, it dawned on him that he might have gotten more than he bargained for when he seized upon this brash young captain as his chosen champion. Champions always had a will of their own, of course. So much was a given. But could he possibly possess subtlety as well?

    A little shudder twitched his shoulders. A big hand clapped down on the nearest, blithely ignoring the arm that was missing below. “And now, Lieutenant. The Capitol, you say?”

    Houston looked at the president’s mansion. “I’d thought to make a stand here, myself.”

    Driscol started to explain the superior merits of the Capitol as a make-do fortress, but Houston cut him off.

    “I’ll take your word for it. It doesn’t really matter, now that I think about it. If I survive this mad adventure, I’ll eventually have to report to General Jackson. And if I had to tell Old Hickory that I chose to defend the nation’s executive house instead of the legislature . . .”

    The captain’s own shoulders twitched.

    “He’d curse me for a Federalist, see if he wouldn’t.”


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